The scientists liken the process to paint being applied to a wall – spreading with ease during brush strokes but sticking once the brush is pulled away.
"For frogs, saliva seeps easily when it hits the insect, then thickens up during retraction," said study lead Alexis Noel in a statement.
For its part, the tongue of a frog turned out to be exceedingly soft – 10 times softer than the human tongue, as soft as brain tissue, according to the scientists. That softness, combined with the spit, creates powerful adhesion between tongue and prey, they found. The extreme softness also helps the tongue coil and change shape when it strikes prey and then retracts toward the mouth.
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Frogs might not be the only ones to gain from all of this stickiness. (Only the cricket gets nothing out of this research.) The study could lead to new adhesives that can quickly reverse their viscosity.
"Most adhesives that have been created are stiff, especially tape," explained Noel's adviser, Georgia Tech engineering professor David Hu. "Frog tongues can attach and reattach with soft, special properties that are extremely stickier than typical materials. Perhaps this technology could be used for new Band-Aids. Or it could be used to create new materials in soft manufacturing."
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